Expert Witness and Major Research Contributor: K. Nyerere Ture
As demographic data from the 2010 census starts to come in, it will show a startling trend - cities that have long been the African American capitals of the US are undergoing drastic change. On the south side of Chicago, in New York's Harlem, across New Orleans and in Washington DC, the black population is in rapid decline. The numbers are particularly startling in Washington, DC - a city that was once so thoroughly black it gained the name "Chocolate City". In 1970, blacks made up over 70 per cent of the district's population. Today, African Americans represent less than 54 per cent of the population and demographers predict they will be a minority in the next five to 10 years. The most common explanation for the displacement is gentrification, and the rising cost of living that comes with the new, generally white, population. Even as a black family occupies the most important residence in DC for the first time in history, "Chocolate City" is having an identity crisis. Al Jazeera goes to the neighbourhoods of the nation's capital where long time black Washingtonians question their future in a city with centuries of rich African American past.
My general research interest reflects a concern for the human condition within the context of social inequality, structural violence and social injustice. My specific interests include investigating structures of discrimination; placement and displacement of African Americans in public housing; the inter-textual nature of social identity (i.e. race, gender and class); and local forms of agency, including acts of resistance and criminality. My research interests have been deeply shaped by my biography as an African American male born and raised in the impoverished and segregated central ward of Newark, NJ. Only until this recent decade, public housing represented a standard and almost exclusive housing option for low-income African Americans in the city of Newark. Today, the demolition and redevelopment of public housing in Newark, as with most major metropolitan cities throughout the US, bears both the promise of progress and the evidence of further injustice for low-income African Americans. Residents, who served as partners in my research, explain how they were initially encouraged by the prospects of massive capital investment intended to modernize their decrepit living conditions, but eventually developed dispositions of distrust as they realized the 21st century form of “urban renewal” continues the practice of their urban removal, destruction of their community/identity, and evisceration of their local history. I use pseudonyms in discussing my research participants to protect their identity, and I only use photographic representations of community life with the approval of my research participants. My overall research goals are guided, in part, by questions that stem from the historical transformations of public housing, such as: in what ways do the redevelopment of once racially segregated and isolated regions of US cities signal transformations of race, class and gender? Does the reconstitution of urban place point to the full inclusion of marginalized citizens, or does it point to their further exclusion from America’s social fabric? How does state sponsored policies in housing and community development represent a form of structural violence and how does this violence impede local realizations of community? What is the relationship between structural violence, urban place and the production of local crime, particularly in public housing and larger urban environments? What should the role of the public scholars, activists and applied researchers be in the context of communities of color in their pursuit of social justice?
Between the spring semester of 2008 and the spring semester of 2013, I sought to understand the lived experiences of public housing residents within the context of structural violence. I carried out my research in a public housing community undergoing a redevelopment scheme: Barry Farm New Communities, Inc. (known locally as the Farms). I participated in the Farm’s community life first as a volunteer, and then as a member of the community’s resident council executive board, doing fundraising, organizing, and teaching. In the spring semester of 2013, I completed my field research. While this community has been reduced in size and importance to that of a twenty two -acre public housing community, its original footprint covered more than 370+ acres, thousands of privately built homes, and a rich and textured heritage. The Farm's origin stretches back to the 19th century with the purchase of the northern half of the Elizabethan land tract for the purposes of forced labor and tobacco cultivation by James D. Barry. African American slaves of the Barry's plantation, once freed, purchased one-acre lots to build new homes as part of the Freedmen’s Bureau land acquisition campaign during the Reconstruction Era. Barry Farms is the first Freemen’s Bureau community in the United States....